web analytics

Word 2007 is distracting. There are plenty of low distraction writing tools out there. I’ve used Q10 and Darkroom on my PC. Both are good. I’m told Mac users have something called Bean. I can’t comment, I’ve not had a Mac in five years. And there are web-based alternatives.

I’d like to see is Microsoft Word 2007 tweaked for distraction-free writing. Like it not, Word is the industry standard. As a professional writer, I’m usually expected to turn in copy as Word files. I’m sometimes expected to use Word’s abysmal review and comparison features (don’t get me started).

My problem with Word is that it is massively overpowered for everyday writing. And overpowering to look at.

So what is required?

Get rid of those ribbon bars, the menu bar and the never-required left-right scroll bar. In fact get rid of almost everything. Default to the draft view with standard fonts and a handful of standard styles. Allow for all the Word keyboard commands. Can you see where I’m coming from here?

Whisper this, Microsoft’s Live Writer is almost what I’m after. At least it would be without the screen clutter. I’m writing this with Live Writer now and it’s functionally all I need.

Converting documents from one format to another can be hard.

Sometimes the problem is incompatibilities between different generations of the same application. Microsoft Word 2007’s docx file format isn’t automatically readable in older version of Word. The same is true for files generated by Excel 2007 and PowerPoint 2007.

When you know in advance a colleague uses an earlier application version, you can choose to do the polite thing and save your document in the older format. This backward compatibility is built-in to Word 2007. Most applications offer similar backward compatibility.

Backward compatibility – up to a point

This is fine in theory, but you’ll either have to remember which format each colleague can use or you’ll just have to send everything in the older format. The problem with this approach is important things in the newer document format may go missing during translation to the older format.

If someone sends you a unopenable docx file – and you’re running an older, yet still reasonably up-to-date version of Word, you’ll only be able to work with the file if you’ve downloaded the Microsoft Office Compatibility Pack. This will also work with your Excel and PowerPoint files.

Things can be harder when converting files between applications from rival software companies or between applications running on different operating systems.

Not all software companies go out of their way to may conversion simple. Dealing with ancient documents from long-deceased operating systems is almost impossible. For example, I’ve got MS-Dos Wordperfect and Planperfect files that I can no longer read.

Text, the lowest common denominator

Some geeks by-pass conversion problems by sticking with lowest-common-denominator file formats. Just about every application on any kind of operating system or hardware device that deals with text, from supercomputers to mobile phones and mp3 players can cope with data stored as plain text (.txt) files.

Plain text is enjoying something of a revival  thanks to the popularity of texting and similar lo-fi applications.

Text makes sense if you don’t need to keep style formatting information such as fonts, character sizes and bold or italic characters in your documents. An alternative low-end file format allowing some basic style formatting is .rtf, the rich text format. This was originally developed by Microsoft some 20 years ago to allow documents to move between different operating systems and it is still present as an option in just about every application that uses text today.

While I can no longer read my ancient Wordperfect files, I have recently found prehistoric documents from the early 1980s when I ran the CP/M operating system and a program called WordStar. Because they were stored as text files, they are still readable.

It is not the best first impression when afternoon mail starts with the words: “good morning”.

On the upside “good morning” means the sender has, at least, thought about manners. They just haven’t thought enough.

On that level Good morning is better than “Oi you!” or worse.

And yes, it’s a more original start than the standard “Hi Bill”. Or “Dear Mr Bennett”. Some variation is welcome.

But not too often.

The problem is “good morning” mails often don’t arrive in the morning. Not even when the writer clicks their send button mail in the morning.

Australians forget time zones

A lot of mail in New Zealand comes from Australia which is usually two or more hours behind New Zealand. When the Bruces and Shelias in Sydney are still boiling billy cans for the day’s first brew, we are ready for lunch.

Public relations people send a lot of the offending messages.

When an Aussie PR sends a “good morning” that arrives late afternoon, it says they only care about journalists in their own country.

The chances are that the “good morning” message is just a bulk press release sent out to dozens of people in Australia and New Zealand.

The subtle, unvoiced subtext of such a message is “we’re happy to take money off of our clients to service New Zealand media, but can’t make an effort to do the best job.”

The key point is that senders have no control over when readers see their mail. This make it presumptuous to start a message that way even when you’re in the same time zone as the reader.

You’ll still be polite or friendly if you start the mail with hi or hello followed by the person’s name.